Gillespie: ‘I Love County Cricket’

Yorkshire’s outgoing coach Jason Gillespie delivers his love letter to the English summer.

Jason Gillespie is tired. Really tired. Half a decade of county cricket without a holiday will do that.

He’s also happy. In his five years as head coach at Yorkshire the club have been promoted from Division Two of the County Championship (in 2012) before finishing second in 2013 and winning consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015. They came close to a third this season but fell short in the season’s dramatic denouement at Lord’s as Middlesex won a hard-earned trophy in stunning style thanks to that Toby Roland-Jones hat-trick.

Though his Yorkshire had a comparatively modest record in limited-overs cricket, Gillespie oversaw an improvement in those fortunes too, with the White Rose reaching the semi-finals of both the NatWest T20 Blast and the Royal London One-Day Cup in 2016.

“We got to the business end in all three comps,” he tells AOC. “That was exciting and a real coup for the club. It was just a near-miss season, we missed out on a trophy having got deep into each tournament. So in a way that was disappointing, but my overriding emotion is just pride in all the lads, they’ve been absolutely brilliant.”

Not only have his team performed on the field, Gillespie has also made a lot of friends during his time in England. Developing a reputation as a coach and man manager to rank with the best (he was considered for the vacant England position before Trevor Bayliss’ appointment), he’s been as popular and vocal a champion of the domestic game as any cricket-lover could have wished for.

But now, with a heavy heart, he’s leaving. With his wife and four children (aged between 3 and 10) returning to join their wider family in South Australia – and a job with the Big Bash’s Adelaide Strikers to occupy him this winter – a move back home was necessary.

“I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to spend seven months away from my family each year,” he says. “It just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. At this point in time with the kids the age they’re at, it feels like the right decision for our family.

“I do love the job at Yorkshire. First team coach, it’s bit of a dream come true really. But since I’ve made the decision and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel it’s the right time for everyone. For the club, for the players – maybe a fresh voice can be a really good thing.

Having retired as a player in 2008 and been turned down for coaching roles in Australia due to a lack of experience, Gillespie looked abroad to bolster his CV, spending two years as coach of Zimbabwe’s Mid-West Rhinos before being asked to re-join Yorkshire, the side where he’d been overseas player as recently as 2007.

“I’ve been very thankful to Yorkshire for affording me the chance to be first team coach, because they did take a bit of a punt, and I’ve spent every day striving to repay that faith that the club has shown in me, and I’d like to think I’ve gone some way to doing that. But the team is just scratching the surface of what they can achieve. I wish everyone all the success in the world because I absolutely love this club. It is sad to leave, but the time’s right.”

He has a great deal to be proud of, citing the team’s promotion back to the first division of the Championship in 2012 as high as any accomplishment: “We lost 40 per cent of the season to rain that year, so that was a massive challenge. When you’re only playing 60 per cent of the time, to finish second and get promoted was a wonderful achievement, I felt. And that allowed us the opportunity to compete for the County Championship from 2013 to now.

“Then some decisions were made on players: players moving on, recruitment of players… I think the recruitment of three players early on in my time in Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks and Andrew Hodd, were really important decisions. And I really applaud the club for going down that path because those three have been brilliant for Yorkshire.”

The quantity of cricket and travelling during an English domestic season, is, Gillespie admits, a unique challenge. One he’ll be looking to recuperate from when he gets back to Australia.

“I’ll be locking myself away for a month – I haven’t had a holiday in many years, since before I started at Yorkshire, so I’m really looking forward to that opportunity to rest. Because I’m pretty tired to be honest with you. I’m tired, I need a break. I need a physical rest, I need a mental rest. I need to be around our family. So that’s what I’m really excited about – just getting home and not doing too much!

“All players will be knackered too, because it’s a challenging season but particularly the lads who play all three forms of the game, I really feel for them, not just at Yorkshire but all around the country. It’s a hard graft. County seasons can be brutal for players. I know how I’m feeling as a coach, but I can’t imagine how the players are feeling. They handle themselves very well.”

Gillespie has made himself a favourite with the media for his openness to interview and his almost unrivalled passion for the game. No request is too big or small, no call too irksome. Gillespie’s view is that it’s all an enjoyable part of the job.

“To me it’s very simple,” he says. “We’re all in the business of cricket. We’re all in the business of entertaining people. I’ve always felt that it’s positive for Yorkshire and it’s positive for county cricket if we’re getting space in the newspapers and magazines, on TV and on radio. If we’re being talked about, that can only be a good thing for the game. The danger would be if no one’s talking about county cricket, Yorkshire and how the game’s faring. I want see the game not only survive but thrive and as part of that I think it is a responsibility of players, coaches, the media, everyone, to be very open and put the game in the shop-front, because that’s in everyone’s best interests. It’s a no-brainer, we must do all we can to keep the game at the forefront of people’s thoughts.”

Gillespie, whose fondness for the County Championship can hardly be questioned, is also instinctively a moderniser, and is optimistic about the game’s future if it embraces change – which moves towards a city-based T20 tournament in England suggest it is increasingly ready to do.

“There are challenges but I am very optimistic. While there’s a lot of debate about what’s best for the game in this country and what it’s going to look like in 10 years’ time, I have the attitude of ‘Why not try things?’ rather than ‘Why try things?’ The talk of this new city T20 league… I don’t see why it can’t be successful. What’s got to be really clear is the expectation. Don’t just assume it’s going to be like the IPL or just like the Big Bash. Create something that’s going to be of benefit to England and English cricket. And it might look slightly different to other franchise tournaments around the world, but for me the really important thing is to give it a crack and have an open mind. That’s key, for everyone in the game – look at it positively. Let’s face it, these things are going to happen. Change needs to happen: everything changes, everything improves. I’m a big believer in trying it, and if it doesn’t work, well, it doesn’t work. But at least you can say you gave it a crack.”

These views seem rooted in a deep desire for the domestic game to succeed, rather than a blasé disregard for tradition. Because when asked what he’ll miss when he’s gone, Gillespie needs not a moment’s thought.

“I’ll miss county cricket. I’ll miss all the people I work with, from the coaching staff to players to everyone in the office. I’ll miss people around the counties as well, there are some wonderful people in the game – other players, other coaches, people in the media, I’ve made some great friends and I wish everyone well.

His passion spills from every sentence.

“I love county cricket. I love going down the motorway to the next game, or watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio, or reading about it on a daily basis during the season. I love the fact that England is a small country and you can get around quite quickly. I come from a country that’s absolutely massive and you have to jump on a plane all the time to go anywhere. So here I can put my kitbag in the back of the car and go, and I’m at another wonderful cricket ground within a couple of hours. I absolutely love that. I’ll miss that.

“But it’s the people you meet, the experiences you have. We’ve got wonderful supporters all around the country, I’ll miss interacting with them… County cricket, I just absolutely love it. I love cricket in this country, it’s a real passion. I wish the game and everyone here all my very best.”

For many involved in the English game for the last five years, the feeling’s mutual.

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